Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Gordon Robinson | So-so chat and PNP renewal

Published:Sunday | September 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The four new vice-presidents (from left) Phillip Paulwell, Wykeham McNeill, Mikael Phillips, and Damion Crawford during the PNP's 80th anniversary conference. File
Jubilant supporters at the 80th anniversary conference of the People’s National Party.
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As much as I champion the need for real Jamaican press freedom, media often leave me shaking my head.

In my opinion, a pivotal event for Jamaica's future hopes took place at the National Arena on Saturday, September 15, but not one media house covered it with the intensity or depth it deserved.

The PNP's vice-presidential election was a watershed moment, as three incumbents vied with three young (well, youngish) relatively inexperienced aspirants. The results, and more important, the reasons behind the results, would be crucial for Jamaica as a moribund PNP strives manfully (no women left at the top) to cope with a youth-oriented, technology-driven JLP seemingly with a lock on political power for another decade.

So, media's lethargic efforts weren't covered (pun intended) in glory, especially when one young TV reporter referred to the event as "Demmo Crassy" in action. Please don't laugh. The reporter wasn't solely to blame for the malapropism. That the reporter neither understood nor could pronounce democracy exposes the disgrace that's our education system, where civics is rarely detected. Civics, critical to any system of education for life, teaches students the meaning of democracy and how to pronounce it.

Democracy is participation. This is the fundamental distinction between that system of governance and totalitarianism. So, an election for party leadership in which only 3,000 'delegates' may participate while hundreds of thousands of party members are limited to being extras frolicking outside election centre or watching on TV is neither democracy nor "Demmo Crassy".

Second, the unfortunate faux pas highlights media's shrinking recruiting standards since the recent proliferation of outlets. Previously, no voice would be heard on radio or on TV before passing several strictly monitored auditions, followed by an apprenticeship where mentors had no difficulty pointing out your deficiencies to your face. Nowadays, that's missing, because it's politically incorrect to embarrass anyone. DWL! It's better to be embarrassed by a mentor in an office than by yourself on national TV.

But we are where we are in media and politics, so this VP election was significant for uncommitted Jamaicans to learn how the PNP's hard core defined its future. This is why, in my column, 'Operation Renewal' (June 10, 2018), I encouraged delegates to vote for Damion Crawford (despite his frequent motormouth 'accidents') and Mikael Phillips.

About Damion, I wrote: "I believe Damion should be encouraged, as he represents the future. But somebody needs to take him in hand, occasionally cover his mouth, and open his eyes to the responsibilities of national leadership." If Peter Phillips wants to lead (as opposed to simply being leader), he'll take up that nationally vital mentorship role.

Regarding Mikael, I wrote: "The second candidate I want to encourage is Mikael Phillips. He said:

"... ][W]e have to prepare ourselves as a party to get ourselves ready for the next election when it's due, and, as such, I've offered myself to help to strengthen the organisation of the party ... ."

NOW you're cooking with Tropigas ... What this PNP needs more than dry peas need water is renewal. For the PNP to become nationally relevant, it must first accept that it has lost the electorate's confidence. Once it accepts this and, concurrently, the immense popularity of the current prime minister, it'll have begun the necessary process of renewal, whereby it can stop the boring, bungling, bumbling belligerence against Andrew Holness and commence the essential task of developing a new mission; a new mission statement; and, crucially, new missionaries."

 

PAULWELL'S LUKEWARM RESULT

 

I didn't encourage Philip Paulwell's election for reasons Jamaicans already know, nor did I endorse Angela Brown Burke, who ran against the man (Paulwell) whose political muscle was widely believed to have handed her a seat in Gordon House. I expected both to struggle.

So, in a glass three-quarters-full result for me, Damion and Mikael topped the poll. Paulwell's lukewarm result didn't make my cup run over, but that he only mustered a feeble fourth should be an unambiguous message discouraging any quietly harboured presidential aspirations. His entry at the bottom of the list, together with loyal stalwart Fenton Ferguson's defeat, suggest PNP delegates want renewal.

So, now I shall speak directly to Damion, Mikael and Wykeham 'Mr Nice-Guy' McNeill. Don't worry, Phillip, I realise you don't want to hear from me. Guys, winning is the easy part! What now? Will you continue the same-old, same-old politics that brought PNP to a shambles in 'PNP country'? Or will you actively strive for change in the way we operate our politics to ensure government by the people for the people and not for political hacks? Will you ensure that one of The Old Ball and Chain's sons can run for prime minister as an independent candidate without having to be backed by the awesome political machinery of a party capable of winning 32 seats?

It was against this background that I watched and listened keenly to Peter Phillips' speech a week ago. Well, at least the PR was good. His loud and hyped-up entrance, whether innocently or deliberately, clashed with Portia's speech and shouted "I'm in charge now," while his outfit placed him on a different level from the rest.

Those were the high points. Even taking into account the make-up of his immediate audience, his address was massively disappointing. He wasted too much time claiming the moral high ground on political corruption when that lofty perch can't be located in Jamaica with a search warrant. If it was somehow stumbled upon, neither party would be able to pay the rent. Andrew Holness later called a spade "hypocrisy".

 

CATALOGUE OF PROMISES

 

Then Phillips unveiled a catalogue of academic promises akin to Holness' 2016 campaign assurances of a revenue-neutral tax break, or that we'd sleep with our windows open. But he never mentioned HOW the PNP could be forced to honour these undertakings were it returned to government where, for 22 years, it failed to implement one of these grand ideas.

He promised a social revolution in education to include the uplifting of underperforming schools without mentioning where he'd find the required number of specially trained teachers or how the current cadre of teachers would suddenly acquire the mindset to reconfigure Jamaica's education. He didn't propose paying teachers emoluments commensurate with their new, elevated responsibilities. He appeared to suggest simply making SDC the responsible agency would work the miracle. Sounded like so-so chat to me.

He promised to ensure squatters and "small farmers" "get" titles and pledged a policy of land redistribution (oops, sorry "reform"), sounding awfully similar to 1970s failed rhetoric. He never acknowledged the only route to a better life begins with education tailored to Jamaica's realities and continues through hard work and production. Until politicians tell voters the truth that success only comes before work in the dictionary and stop promoting this vote-buying fairy tale about handing out Titles, they'll continue to be dismissed as cheap hucksters not to be taken seriously.

Government policy across administrations must highlight education, hard work and productivity as the only way to progress or prosperity. It must be supported by feasible implementation agents (like highly trained and paid teachers). All else is political hype. So this, too, sounded like so-so chat to me.

He acknowledged a future PNP Government couldn't expect to rule from above but must listen to the people. Yet he failed to propose one single new system to ensure this actually happened after winning an election. Not a word in English aimed at forcing MPs to represent only constituents by excluding them from the executive branch of Government.

If MPs aren't the conduits through which the people talk to their Government, how can governments listen? If MPs and Government are one and the same, would this grand idea of listening to the people not look more like government talking to itself? He failed to mention a single systemic tool of performance enhancement or accountability like term limits, impeachment of ministers, or recall of MPs. Just so-so chat!

 

MUSICAL-CHAIRS POLITICS

 

He said, "Our commitment is to change the structures of inequality by assaulting the structures and the institutions that keep poverty entrenched in this country ..." but made no mention of the structure most assuredly perpetuating inequality, namely Jamaica's governance system granting absolute power to a prime minister, thus facilitating corruption, Anancyism and cronyism for 55 years. I'm sure his speech revved up the PNP hard core, but it all sounded like so-so chat to me.

Will my children have to wait for another political generation led by the likes of the impressive Krystal Tomlinson to force genuine PNP renewal, which can drive the change Jamaica urgently needs? Will the bridge from old-style PNP to that generation be built by leaders like Lisa, Mikael or Damion? Or will it be musical-chairs politics forever?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.